Legislation could give facelift to Louisiana social-media privacies
  // Thursday, 04 April 2013 13:11 //

capitol-red-blueWith social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, now a mainstream feature of society, they introduce new issues with which we must deal.  

 In a world where personal lives are now easily accessible on the Internet, this new reality leads to controversy and debate; as a result, invasion of privacy must be redefined, and reiterating a person’s right to withhold personal information is essential.

A new bill which may be passed at the next legislative session may change the way employers and universities can take advantage of the social media accounts of potential employees and students.

Representative Edward “Ted” James, D-Baton Rouge, will file what’s known as the Social Media Privacy Protection Act at the next legislative session, scheduled April 8. This would grant   rights to online privacy, by prohibiting employers and educational institutions from pressuring students and workers to provide personal account information, such as the username and password, as a requirement for employment or admittance.

Social Media Privacy Protection Act, or HB 314, also states that employers and educational institutions will be unable to “discharge, discipline, fail to hire, or otherwise penalize or threaten to penalize” an employee, applicant, or student, for refusal to provide social media account information.

In an article on Nola.com, James discussed the numerous complaints he received from workers and students, who were allegedly coerced by teachers and employers to hand over private account information to social media profile sites, such as Facebook.

“I want to see this issue bought into the forefront before it becomes a larger problem,” said James, urging Louisiana to push for a more proactive approach toward the issues that arise from social media websites, before a major incident occurs.

If this social media bill is passed, Louisiana will become the seventh state to pass a law prohibiting employers and school administrators from gaining access to online account information; other states with similar laws include Michigan, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, and New Jersey.

Social Media Privacy Protection Act includes some exceptions. There are some instances in which an employer or educational institution may be able to request a person’s account information to gain access to a form of social media, which is defined in HB 314 as any electronic content, including videos, still photographs, blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, e-mail, online services and accounts, or Internet website profiles.

For example, the bill states that an employer will have the right to request access to work-related accounts that are provided by the employer. An employee or student may also face disciplinary action, discharge or expulsion, if there is evidence of disclosing work-related confidential information or financial data on any form of social media without consent. Employees and students will be required to cooperate with an investigation, if evidence of professional misconduct or confidential information released on a social media website surfaces.

James stated that the main focus of the bill is to secure the right to privacy of account information, and the bill only applies to information that is secured with a password. Therefore, the Social Media Privacy Protection Act explains that an employer “shall not be prohibited or restricted from viewing, accessing, utilizing information about employee or applicant that can be obtained without any required access information, or that is available in the public domain.”

If this proposal is passed at the upcoming legislative session, an employer or teacher may be given a misdemeanor charge and required to pay a fine that doesn’t exceed $1,000, if they violate this social media privacy law.

by Paris Hughes

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Metairie, Louisiana

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